A Quick Bite with Virginia Johnson

A Quick Bite with Virginia Johnson

There’s a cotton dress of Virginia Johnson’s that’s covered in sea blue whales. I bought it a week before my first child was born when I really was as big as a beluga. It’s what I wore to Mount Sinai the day labour began and what I lived in for weeks after when my body wobbled like a blancmange. Today, I could swim in it, but I’ll never give it away.

I love Johnson’s whimsical  style. In the holiday home of my dreams, (on an island in the Cyclades or in Essaouira, let’s say) all the pool parasols are covered in her charming fabric. I’m lying on a chaise wearing a djellaba and one of her sunhats and drinking fresh mint lemonade out of a vintage tea glass. Are you still with me? Perfect for my real life is a canvas tote from Johnson’s current J.Crew collab. It’s roomy enough for swimming nappies, snacks, hats, sunscreens, wipes and anything else you and your sprogs might need for summer in Toronto.

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SPC: What is your earliest food memory?

Johnson: I did not grow up in a family of cooks! But I am discovering food as an adult, and having kids has made it more of a priority.

SPC: Ben and Georgia are still small (one & three) but do you encourage them to muck in with food prep anyaway?

Johnson: I do, but at this age it is hard to get them to sit still for long. If they are in the mood, I sit them at the island and they help me.  I have more success with baking. I just bought herbs for the garden, so they are interested in seeing how things grow.

SPC: What do family mealtimes look like in your household?

Johnson: We have an open kitchen and family room, so we are usually all there but often doing different things. If the kids want to help with the cooking I involve them, but if they want to play or go outside they can. When dinner is ready we mostly eat on the kitchen island. Some days if they are really into playing I don’t push it. I know they’ll eat when they’re hungry.

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SPC: How do you respond if your little ones baulk at the sight of broccoli or refuse to eat runner beans?
Johnson: I do probably what every parent does: tell them they have to eat them, and if that fails I bribe them.

SPC: Are you strict about lollipops and cupcakes and other sticky treats?

Johnson: I try to limit the amount of sugar they have but they definitely indulge from time to time. When it starts to get out of hand and they want desserts for breakfast, I impose a moratorium. I redirect them towards ‘fruit desserts’ or fruit yogurt (which I buy in tubs and secretly mix in advance with plain yogurt).

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SPC: As a working mother with a busy schedule, how do you make family meals a part of your routine?

Johnson: I try not to have impossible standards. I was upset for a while that I couldn’t pull off a sit-down dinner every night (or any night), until my business coach pointed out what an unrealistic expectation that was with a one and three-year-old. As it becomes more realistic to have them sit down and eat all at once, we will, but in the meantime I’ve let go of that. We are all together in the kitchen almost every night, that seems fine to me.

SPC: Who or what is your biggest influence when it comes to the way your feed your family today?
Johnson: My friends. No matter what demanding jobs they have, journalists, lawyers, business owners, every woman has to come home and figure out what to feed her kids. For me it’s about survival and getting time-saving tips from others in the same boat. Do whatever makes your life easier and don’t be a perfectionist.

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